Federal probe demanded after Miami police shooting
September 27, 1999
By Miami Bureau Chief John Zarrella
MIAMI (CNN) -- As grieving friends and family on Monday buried a 19-year-old man killed by a police officer in Miami, local African-American leaders called on the U.S. Justice Department to investigate his death.
Antonio Butler was unarmed when fatally shot by Miami police officer Juan Mendez a week ago. But authorities maintain the action was justified, as Mendez said he thought Butler was reaching for a gun after he fled from a carjacked vehicle.
The mood was somber as Butler's white coffin was carried into a local Baptist church. "No one deserves to die the way my cousin died. No one," said Lesa Slaton.
Afterward, many attending the funeral service marched on Miami police headquarters. They wanted to know why an officer with what they consider a questionable past is still on the force.
In 15 years of service, Mendez has fired his weapon seven times, killing four people including Butler. The high numbers are rare for an officer, experts say, but department reviews found the shootings justifiable.
U.S. Rep. Carrie Meeks, a Democrat from Miami, has asked Justice Department Secretary Janet Reno, a former local prosecutor, to investigate the shooting.
Butler's mother thinks a trigger-happy cop killed her unarmed son. "He don't carry a weapon. He's not a violent person, never been. He was just an innocent person in the whole thing," Leticia Butler said.
Mendez has said he fired his weapon because he thought Butler, a suspect in the armed carjacking, which happened a day before the shooting, was reaching for a gun. His superiors have backed him.
"The officer has a split second to assess what's going on. Armed carjacking. The man's pulling at his waist band. A split second to react and the officer reacted," said Miami Police Chief William O'Brien.
That explanation may do little to comfort Miami's African- American community, which has a history of police mistrust. On three difference occasions, police shootings of black men have led to riots in the city.
LA police criticized in shooting death of Latino man
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